Even as a little girl, growing up in the suburbs of Gothenburg, Swedish S&D deputy Evin Incir wanted to make a difference in the world.
“Especially with my background, belonging to an oppressed group, the Kurdish people, I realised that something was wrong in society and I wanted to play a part in changing it. For me, the idea of being a part of that change was at the core of why I started to get involved in politics. When I realised that there was a possibility of being elected to the European Parliament, I decided to go for it and approached my party and the membership to express my interest. In the end, I had the honour of not only receiving support from the party but also, of course, the Swedish people who elected me.”
She says that her election to the European Parliament in May 2019 left her with mixed feelings. “On the one hand, I was relieved that the election was over and delighted that it was a positive result. But on the other hand, I also started to get very nervous, because it’s an enormous challenge and a huge responsibility to take on.”
“I think what happened to George Floyd is a huge tragedy. But what came out of it is very important: many people all around the world rose up and said enough is enough”
A co-president of Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup, Incir is appalled by the lack of diversity in the EU institutions - with an estimated one percent racial and ethnic minority make up.
“I think it’s a big shame that we have such a lack of diversity. The motto of the European Union is ‘United in Diversity’ but we only really accommodate the national diversity of the countries within the European Union. Our citizens are very diverse in terms of their racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds, so the lack of diversity within the EU institutions is something that I think we need to take much more seriously. This lack of diversity has been discussed in the European Parliament in recent weeks, as well as the institutionalised racism and discrimination that we, unfortunately, see in the EU institutions and in the Member States. It is wrong that people are not able to get the jobs they want - and this is not based on their qualities or their qualifications - but on the colour of their skin. I think to start with, awareness is the most important element. After that, we need to put strong anti-discrimination laws in place.”
As to whether she has personally had to endure racism, Incir says, “I’ve actually experienced quite a lot of racism. On social media platforms, for example, there have been people from the extreme right, naming me as the Kurdish girl who doesn’t care about Sweden, saying that I only care about my own people. This shows that some people do not even consider me as part of society. And that is an indication of how normalised racism has become in many of our countries. With the Internet, these kinds of ideas can circulate much more freely. And I have seen quite a lot of similar comments, unfortunately. I remember when I was 20 years old, I even received letters in my mailbox at home, with cut out interviews with me from the newspapers, pointing out my address or the area that I was living in. The message was clear: ‘We know where you live.’ Across the EU and beyond, we see right-wing extremist parties growing stronger and, to a certain extent, even becoming normalised.”
“Trump’s plan is a slap in the face for all those who believe in a two-state solution and who believe that an Israeli and a Palestinian state can live side by side in peace, security and democracy”
“I mean, just take a look at the United States, where they have a President who claims to believe in democratic principles, but at the same time expresses himself in such a way as to make certain groups of people look like criminals. It is a real pity that the US has come to this point.”
Incir says that during a visit to the United States last autumn, she was told that the far-right movement in Sweden - the Sweden Democrats - was being strengthened by the Republican Party and the Trump administration. “This shows that the Trump administration is actually reaching out to far-right movements in Europe and in Sweden,” she adds.
Turning to the death of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests, Incir says, “I think what happened to George Floyd is a huge tragedy. But what came out of it is very important; many people all around the world rose up and said enough is enough. And they will no longer accept what has been going on for decades and even centuries in some regions. It’s important that we don’t lose momentum, that it continues and more importantly, that we move from words to actions and put in place legislation that prevents people losing their lives because of the colour of their skin or their backgrounds.”
As a vice-chair of Parliament’s delegation for relations with Palestine, Incir is far from a proponent of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the region. “I think that Trump’s plan - and I’m saying that because I do not want to use the words Trump, plan and peace in the same sentence, because I do not think that this has anything to do with peace - is a unilateral proposal which doesn’t take into account the Israeli and the Palestinian people. I think it would further escalate conflict and violence in the region. Trump’s plan is a slap in the face for all those who believe in a two-state solution and who believe that an Israeli and a Palestinian state can live side by side in peace, security and democracy.”
“I’ve actually experienced quite a lot of racism. On social media platforms, for example, there have been people from the extreme right, naming me as the Kurdish girl who doesn’t care about Sweden, saying that I only care about my own people. This shows that some people do not even consider me as part of society”
With her Kurdish heritage, Incir is well aware of the challenges Kurds face in the Middle East given their persecution not only in Turkey, but also Iran, Iraq and Syria.
“First of all, I want to see a continual recognition of what is really happening to the Kurdish people. It shouldn’t be only when there are media headlines about the situation in the Middle East and the oppression that the Kurds face. It shouldn’t only be then when the EU recognises the situation and tries to do something about it. We should be constantly aware of the Kurdish situation, regardless of the newspaper headlines.”
She says that the presence of the EU in talks with Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria is crucial. “The Kurdish issue must be on the table and addressed, so that Kurds can achieve the freedom we also deserve as a people. The Kurds have endured a great deal of oppression for a very long time, yet who was it that fought on the frontline in the struggle against ISIS? It was the Kurdish people. And the international community talked a lot at the time about the important role the Kurds could play. But now that ISIS is basically defeated and doesn’t exist to the same extent, nobody talks about the Kurdish people anymore - it shouldn’t be like that.”
Incir is also a member of Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup and, like her fellow Intergroup members, is extremely concerned by the current situation in Member States such as Poland and Hungary, where LGBTI rights have been undermined and reversed against the backdrop of the Coronavirus crisis.
“It is a very serious situation and with COVID-19 it has escalated. These are violations against the rule of law, against fundamental rights, against democracy. This is, sadly, nothing new - violations against LGBTI rights have been going on for many years - but I would like to see the EU being more proactive. Not least of which when it comes to the Article 7 process,” she says, referring to the procedure for protecting EU values.
On this issue, Incir says she is “very disappointed” in the Croatian EU presidency. “Looking at how the Finnish presidency handled the Article 7 process, we saw a very active presidency which even had two ministerial meetings with focus on the Article 7 process against Hungary. But during the Croatian presidency I haven’t seen any progress being made there.”
Asked her thoughts on Sweden’s ‘Herd Immunity’ response to the pandemic and whether there are lessons to be learned from the country’s approach, Incir says that at this point in time, it is too early to judge the different measures that have been taken.
“Looking at how the Finnish presidency handled the Article 7 process, we saw a very active presidency which even had two ministerial meetings with focus on the Article 7 process against Hungary. But during the Croatian presidency I haven’t seen any progress being made there”
“I could, for example, take one example, and that’s Belgium, where I am right now. Belgium implemented much harsher measures than Sweden, but the situation is not much better in Belgium; it’s actually worse. So we can see that it is too early to judge any country’s measures right now, because this is a new pandemic and the virus is not acting like previous viruses. Therefore, I think it is too early to have an evaluation on which strategy was better or worse.”
As Europe tentatively approaches some kind of normality, with many Member States now emerging from a protracted period of lockdown, Incir says there are many lessons to be gleaned from the experience, underlining in particular the importance of multilateral cooperation.
“At the beginning of the pandemic some countries took protectionist and nationalistic measures which very obviously failed. If we had been more prepared in advance, not taking short-term protectionist and nationalistic measures, I think we would have been able to address the pandemic at a much earlier stage through coordination. The importance of cooperation is one of the biggest lessons to be learned. There are right-wing and nationalist parties who are trying to say that the EU failed and therefore we should go back to stronger national states. But I would like to say that I see the opposite and I believe in the importance of cooperation.”